The summer of 2013 will likely be remembered for a single, sweet, solitary word — the Cronut.
BY TYLER FOX
What, pray tell, is a Cronut, you might ask? Created in May by French born New York pastry chef Dominique Ansel, the Cronut manages to join the high minded, classic French pastry — the croissant —with the low brow, deep fried police pleaser of American indulgence — the doughnut — in a type of chubby culinary matrimony.
It took little time for the Cronut to go viral and within weeks every corner of the Internet was abuzz, as were the lips of salivating sweet tooth’s across the globe.
While “viral” is not a term I would regularly want to associate with food I plan on eating, it is impossible to deny the Cronut’s foothold in recent cultural consciousness.
Does this mark a new moment in food, a kind of butter and sugar-laden Magna Carta? Or is the Cronut, like boy bands and stock market booms, a temporary fad destined to fizzle out and take its place alongside Crystal Pepsi and astronaut ice cream in the bargain bin of bygone days?
Regardless of the Cronut’s fate, the doughnut has and will always have a place in the hearts and minds of Americans and citizens of the world alike. I would in no way be surprised if Homer Simpson’s immortal words of “mmmm … doughnuts” were far more widely known than any phrase ever uttered by a President or King.
With an arsenal of innumerable flavors from glazed and jelly filled to simple sprinkles or more exotic offerings, doughnuts present something to suit the tastes of almost anyone.
But is there a better alternative to procuring your sweet, sweet doughnut fix than a crack of dawn trek to the long lines at Lamar’s or the late night descending headlights of a packed Krispy Kreme drive thru?
I would argue that there is and it is no further away than the space between your hands — you can make your own.
The dough in doughnuts is generally some sweetened form of flour dough, commonly a cake batter or yeast raised dough, shaped, fried and topped countless ways. The two crucial components, making the dough and deep-frying, are more difficult than the seemingly simple treat might have you think.
But this is where learning a basic technique — the supremely versatile Pate a Choux (pronounced pat-ah-shoo) — will open up a whole new frontier of pastry possibilities.
Choux is both a form of dough and a method, mixing the basic components of fat, flour, liquid and egg in precise steps to create a dough rich with flavor and possessing an ethereally light, airy texture.
It is the air pockets created during cooking that make Choux adaptable to so many applications, forming the basis for everything from doughnuts to eclairs, profiteroles, gougeres and even dumplings, all possible with slight variants in ingredient and cooking method once you have the technique.
As Pate a Choux is a wet dough, it is easiest to put it into a pastry bag or large Ziploc where it can be more conveniently piped onto a baking sheet or directly into the oil.
To achieve the quintessential ringed donut shape, simply pipe the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and then dust the dough with flour before dropping into the oil.
When frying, remember to use a pan large enough to hold a reasonable batch, and fill it only halfway up with oil to prevent overflow and limit splatters during cooking.
It takes a bit of practice and effort, but you will find the sweat equity invested results in impossibly sweet rewards.
Once you have the Choux method in your bag of tricks, you will be ready and equipped to skip the Cronut craze and start dazzling friends and family alike with the majestic alchemy of a doughnut to call your own.
Lavender and Vanilla Bean Donuts
These are a simple form of donut that can be enhanced in numerous ways. For richer texture, replace the water with milk or add flavored sugar to liquid before making. This is a process of incorporating liquid, fat and eggs to create the light, airy dough; so once comfortable with the technique, you can begin to get creative with flavors and ingredients.
1 cup filtered water
2 tablespoons sugar or local honey (lavender honey if you’ve got it)
1 stick butter (8 tablespoons)
1 cup all purpose flour
4 large eggs, broken individually
2 cups grapeseed or other neutral flavored oil, for frying
Lavender and Vanilla Bean Sugar (see recipe below)
In small saucepan, bring water, sugar and butter to a boil and reduce heat to medium low, allowing butter to fully melt. Once butter is fully melted, add flour all at once to liquid, stirring with long wooden spoon to begin incorporating flour and liquid together. As dough and liquid mix, continue stirring until a rough ball of dough forms and begins pulling away from edges of saucepan. Continue stirring 1 minute, then turn heat off and allow dough to sit and cool down, but not go cold, roughly 5-7 minutes.
Crack each egg into individual ramekins. Add one egg at a time to dough mix, stirring vigorously. The egg will look shiny initially but continue stirring until it is incorporated and the dough looks uniform and sticky. Add next egg, and repeat process.
Transfer mixture to pastry bag or Ziploc bag and chill in refrigerator until cool. When ready to cook doughnuts, heat oil to 370 degrees in a large pot or saucepan. Pipe Pate a Choux dough onto a lightly floured work surface, dusting the doughnut with flour before dropping into the oil. Handle the dough as delicately as possible, as it is wet and very soft. Fry doughnuts in hot oil to a golden brown color, 1 to 2 minutes, flipping them midway through. Chopsticks, tongs or slotted spoon work well for this. Remove from hot oil and roll in the Lavender and Vanilla Bean Sugar. Once cool enough to handle, devour your doughnuts with ravenous delight.
Lavender and Vanilla Bean Sugar
1 Vanilla Bean
1 cup granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon fresh or dried Lavender Flowers
Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise, exposing fine black interior. Scrape the vanilla bean downwards with the back of a paring knife, collecting sticky interior vanilla. Add collected vanilla and lavender flowers to sugar and vigorously whisk to incorporate evenly, or pulse ingredients in food processor until evenly incorporated. Lavender flowers will be in smaller pieces and vanilla will appear as tiny black flecks throughout sugar.
Tyler Fox, personal chef/event caterer who emphasizes ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking philosophy as well as vegan and local/farm to table foods.